Friday, September 23, 2005

Just Say No to HB 39

The NH legislature is getting back into gear for the 2006 session. A number of bills have already made their way to legislative services, and more will be forthcoming. This isn’t a budget year, so we will be spared the budget wrangling, and we’ll have more time to focus on what kind of legislation is being considered. Hot topics this year will include immigration legislation and changes in voter laws. Despite the lack of evidence of any voter fraud, we can expect to see legislation aimed at increasing the barriers to voter participation by certain populations – students, minorities, and the indigent. The police in New Ipswich and Hudson were thwarted by the courts, who ruled that criminal trespass laws weren’t intended to be used against undocumented workers. A couple of state reps from Hudson have proposed legislation targeting the same population.

The legislature will also be contending with everything that was held over in committee from last session. One such bill is HB39, “An Act relative to sex education in public schools.” This bill is aimed at turning comprehensive sex education into an abstinence only program. NH has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Last year DHHS received a big chunk of cash from the federal government for having such a low teen pregnancy rate. What we’ve been doing has obviously been working rather well – so it’s ironic (and moronic) that the response to success is to attempt to institute the sort of programs that are failing teens around the country.

There’s plenty of evidence that abstinence only programs aren’t working. Study after study shows that teens were more sexually active after going through abstinence only programs. Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Texas all had similar findings. In Erie County, Pennsylvania, 42 percent of teen girls who attended an abstinence only program were sexually active, compared with 27 percent of those who weren’t in the program. In Texas, tenth grade boys’ rates of sexual activity increased from 24 to 39 percent. California terminated its abstinence only programs in 1996, because it wasn’t working.

A report issued by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, found that some of the most popular abstinence only programs (federally funded programs) contained false statements about contraception, HIV transmission, abortion, and STDs. This misleading information increases the likelihood that teens in these programs will have unprotected sex.

HB39 stipulates that “Pupils shall be provided with statistics based on the latest medical information citing the failure and success rates of condoms in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” If this information is coming from one of the aforementioned programs, it’s very likely to be false, and may actually result in kids engaging in unprotected sex – which will in turn result in actually increasing the teen pregnancy rate.

No one ever worries about kids getting too much exposure to math. Teaching algebra doesn’t result in the fear that kids will want to stay after school and figure out pi equations on the blackboard, or go into nerdy math careers. Despite all evidence to the contrary – the fear continues to be perpetuated that educating kids about their bodies, sexuality, and responsibility will result in unrestrained sexual activity, and orgies all over town. Teaching fear and repression has never worked. There was at least one pregnant girl in my little pre-Roe vs. Wade high school. There were even pregnant girls in the idyllic 1950’s. They just got shipped off to relatives for the duration – while discreet adoptions were arranged, or they had illegal abortions.

What the abstinence only proponents refuse to acknowledge, is that abstinence is, in fact, taught in comprehensive sex ed programs. We would all like to see kids wait until they’re older, and more responsible to begin having sexual relationships. Not everyone will heed that advice, as history shows us. Isn’t it better for those kids to at least have some preparation beyond “just say no?” We don’t just put a kid in a car, give ‘em the keys and say – go ahead and drive. We give them an education to prepare them for the reality of what happens behind the wheel. Shouldn’t we do the same with sex education?

NH has been successful in reducing the teen pregnancy rate – so to change what is working, to what is proven not to work is a concept I find utterly mystifying. HB39 is sponsored by Rep.Russell Albert of Rochester, Rep. Harriet Cady of Deerfield, and Rep. Kathleen Souza of Manchester. Rep. Souza is a member of both NH Right to Life and the national Right to Life organizations. It’s interesting to note that both Souza and Cady voted against legislation that would mandate the wearing of bicycle helmets by children. At least they’re consistent in their approach when it comes to kids and protection.

Abstinence only programs are politically and religiously motivated. They aren’t based in reality – they don’t care about teens, and above all – they don’t work! Do we really want to ruin young lives with this socio-political experiment? Please contact your state reps and urge them to just vote no on HB39.

“Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.” Butch Hancock